Study of the evolution of a Chassidic Tale
How to understand the reasons behind the Degel's Behavior Based on the attitudes towards Chassidus in Volhyn vs. Galicia
The Story as I always knew it and as I have it printed in My Translation of Noam Elimelech MiPeninei Noam Elimelech page 75:
Reb Menachem Mendel of Rimanov once related to Reb Moshe Chaim Efraim of Sudilkov, the author of Degel Machaneh Efraim and grandson of the Ba'al Shem Tov:
"My holy master and teacher Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk used to meditate on the awe and fear of the Almighty every day. Each day when he would do this, his whole body would shake and tremble, and fear and trepidation would seize him. Everyone present could see him trembling violently from the sheer awe of Hashem and the majesty of the Almighty. All his tendons and ligaments could be seen, thick and taut as ropes; his face would change colors and a certain vein below his ear would begin bulging.
I received a tradition from my Rebbe that there is a vein located below the ear that only trembles from fear of the day of death. With my Rebbe, this vein trembled daily from his great fear of Hashem."
(Source: Eser Tzachtzachos 2; Seder Doros HeChadash, part 4)
See also Ohel Elimelech #2 same as above and in Ateres Menachem #8 it ends by saying that the Degel praised him saying, "This chassid knows how to look well."
Once Rav Mendele of Rymanov was visiting the Holy Rav Ephraim author of the Degel Macheneh Ephraim of Sudilkov, may the memory of the righteous and holy be to the next world. He asked him who his Rebbe was? And Rav Mendele answered him: that his Rebbe was the Rebbe Elimelech. And he [The Degel] asked him [Rav Mendele] to relate a story about him [Rebbe Elimelech]. And he told: "It is known that every person has a certain vein beneath his ear, which does not shake or tremble during his entire life except at the moment of death, heaven save us! This very vein would tremble on a daily basis by my Rebbe the Rebbe Elimelech due to the awe and fear of Hashem." To which the Degel replied: "from such a chassid I derive satisfaction and pleasure, since he knows what to tell."
(Intro to Imrei Yosef Spinka Shemos)
In the sefarim Yehi Ohr 130 and Gedulas Yehoshua the version of the story is similar except that Rav Mendele meets and tells it to Rav Baruch of Mezibuz (The Dege's brother) who answers "A fine Rebbe and a fine student."
The author of Kedushas Noam Elimelech in his footnotes to page 111, attempts to resolve this contradiction by saying that perhaps Rav Mendele visited both brothers and told them the same story when queried regarding his Rebbe. While this is indeed possible, in all likelihood this is an example of a story that in its being retold has had much factual information in it garbled up. For example the attribution of the tale to Rav Mendele of Rymanov and Rav Eliemelch of Lizensk is consistent in both traditions whereas Rav Baruch and his holy brother the Degel are the ones who are interchanged.
This happens often when two Tzadikim are either brothers or similarly disposed. For example we find several stories about Rebbe Elimelech and his brother Reb Zisha of Hanipoli where they are exchanged and between Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev and Rav Moshe Leib Sassover who although not related by blood, where known to be almost inseparable in their quest to redeem Jewish captives and have therefore many tales recording their friendship and interactions.
I have found therefore at least four examples where this type of story exchange has taken place and while both traditions have reliable sources one cannot help but feel that this is the case here as well.
However in the 13 Oros of Pshevorsk we find a different tradition on pg 32b,
"After our master [Rebbe Elimelech] passed away, his student Rav Mendele Rymanover decided to travel to Rav Baruch of Mezibuz. On the way doubts began to creep into his heart whether he should travel to Rav Baruch or his brother the holy Rav of Sudilkov author of the Degel Macheneh Ephraim.
When the coachman reached a fork in the road and one path lead to Mezibuz and the other to Sudilkov, he erred and he took the direction that led to Sudilkov. Rav Mendele was either dozing off or in rapture and dveykus (either way he was preoccupied and did not notice the mistake) and when he awoke he realized that the coachman had made a mistake. He then declared "this too is a good way to journey," since he himself was doubting whether to journey in the end to Mezibuz or first to Sudilkov, and this must have come from G-d's hand and been Divine providence."
Then the story continues as before with the Degel commenting at the end, "here is a student who knows how to watch his Rebbe."
There is a totally different version of this story:
"Once as Rav Mendele traveled to Mezibuz to see the holy Rebbe Reb Baruch he passed on the way by the Degel Machene Ephraim, Rav Baruch's brother. He decided to stop over and say Shalom to him. When he arrived none of the Rebbe's attendants payed him any attention since he appeared [dressed] as a Polish rebbe'le. He told them, to tell their Rebbe that Reb Mendel of Ryamov has arrived to say Shalom. When the Degel Machene Ephraim heard who it was he called him in right away.
He gave Shalom Aleichem and asked him if he knew when the moment Shabbos arrived was? "yes," answered Rav Mendel, "I know exactly when Shabbos arrives, because at that moment I begin to shudder and shudder!" He repeated himself until all those present where struck with awe. The Degel Machene Ephraim realized that he was a man of stature and asked him to remain for Shabbos.
However all Shabbos long he did not speak to him, as if he had forgotten that he was even there. At the third Shabbos meal Shalosh Seudos the Degel Machene Ephraim began to say Torah with great enthusiasm and excitement as was his custom.
Rav Mendele refused to listen and he even put his fingers in his ears and Degel Machene Ephraim realized and was very angry and upset at him. He said, "You came here to disrupt my tish?" And Rav Mendele did not answer, he got up and went straight to his lodgings. On Motzaei Shabbos the Degel called him and said "I adjure you to swear by the Torah that you will be one of my chassidim!" "And what will I do with the six bottles of wine that I have with me which I must give to the Rebbe Reb Baruch of Mezibuz?" asked the Rymanover.
The Degel answered him that he should send them using a delivery service emissary. And so he did. When the Rebbe Reb Baruch heard what the Degel had done he sent word to his brother saying "Every wrong you have done against me I can forgive except for this chassid which you took from me by force, this I cannot forgive!"
The problem with it besides that it does not fit with the Degel's personality is that it appears in the sefer Sichos Chaim Mogalinitza pg 23a-b. Regarding this collection of Chassidic tales the Munkaczer Rebbe (Rav Chaim Elazar Shapira zatzal) wrote a sharp rebuttal claiming that several were false. (See Divrei Torah II Munkacsz p185-186 #24 where he says that although this sefer has approbations from gedolim it has stories that are all mixed up for example the reason he gives for the disagreement, machlokes between the Chozeh of Lublin and The Yid HaKadosh of Peshischa which he calls things that are forbidden to be heard, said and surely forbidden to print! See also ibid Divrei Torah II Munkacsz #78 and #94 regarding this topic) I think we may be able to apply his criticisms to this tall tale as well. We never find that Rav Mendel accepted the Degel as his Rebbe in the way this tale implies. And we have never heard of such arguments between Rav Baruch and the Degel in other tales.
My dear friend asked regarding another version of this story here
The source of the above tradition?
I believe it is HaChassidus by Aharon Marcus.
On p117 of the 1980 Hebrew translation by Netzach I found:
"After his [Rav Mendel's] rebbe [Elimelech of Lizhensk] had passed on he traveled to Russia to meet Rav Baruch, the Baal Shem Tov's grandson. On the way he stopped in Sadilkov by his brother Rav Ephraim author of the Degel Machene Ephraim." This was on Friday, Erev Shabbos, and Rav Mendel sent one his own students to announce his arrival to the Degel. "These border people! (The Galicianers were known by this nickname due to the new border) they are all Rebbes! I do not wish to see him!"
The disciple was not flustered and he reported back to Rav Mendel that he should enter. The author of the Degel acted like a royal prince. At that time he was trimming his finger nails in honor of the upcoming Shabbos and he washed his hands from a golden vessel, he was seated with his back to Rav Mendel and he shook hands with him over his shoulder without turning around to greet him. "Are you a student of Rebbe Elimelech? Can you tell me about one of his wonders?"
"This I cannot do," answered Rav Mendel, "however this I can tell you, there is a certain vein behind the ear that only at the moment of death one can discern its beating, however I saw it beating when my master prayed the silent Shemone Esrei prayer." When the Degel heard this he turned around to face Rav Mendel and gave him a new greeting and after some further conversation they grew close and he could not leave him the entire Shabbos they were inseparable."
This story too has its problems. All traditions indicate that Rav Baruch was the wealthy one and that the Degel lived in frugal poverty. This tale seems very uncharacteristic of the Degel, why the cold reception, belittling of the Galicianers and what in that story made the Degel transformed?
I have found several other famous stories in this book that are mixed up, such as the claim that the Koznitzer Maggid fled to the Berditchiver on Hoshanna Rabbah with the 4 minim in hand, when it is clear that the Berditchiver was the one who fled due to the persecutions of his misnagdim.
A real mix up?
Another version of this story that seems mixed up:
The Rebbe Reb Baruch would always make fun of and laugh at the Berditchiver, every opportunity when a guest arrived he would ask him about Rav Levi Yitzchak. Once a guest came from among the Chassidim, a follower of Rav Levi Yitzachak of Berditchev who was also greatly learned in the art of surgery. The Rebbe Reb Baruch asked his guest about the Berditchiver and he answered:
"I am learned and have studied all the sinews in the human body. There is one sinew behind the ear which only pulses from the fear of death. I myself saw that very sinew pulsing constantly with not a moments rest by my master [the Berditchiver]." Answered Rav Baruch - "Azoy Azoy Hat Ehr Gezehn?! - Wow thats what he saw!?"
(Kisvei Rav Yoshe #22 p.126)
The Real Story?
"The holy Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk author of the Noam Elimelech told his students when they asked him who they should accept as Rebbe [after his passing?]
He told them to go to the Degel, the Baal Shem Tov's grandson, author of the Degel Machane Ephraim. His student Rav Mendele Pristiker (what the Rymanover was known as before he was in Rymanov)
traveled to Sadilkov on Friday Erev Shabbos Kodesh. He went straight of the Rabbi's home, he asked the attendant to announce his arrival to get permission to say Shalom Aleichem and the Sidalkover Rav asked him to enter.
The holy Degel could not stand the Rebbes that came from Poland (Galicia), since people said that they fasted often and that they did not really understand how to serve Hashem out of love and awe. And he always said, whoever fasts and afflicts himself and his body is diminishing his soul since Man was created in the Tzelem Elokim - in the image of G-d with a duality of both body and soul. And the truth path including serving G-d with both of them was foreign to them [the Polish Rebbes].
And he considered it [fasting] a grave sin as our sages said, one who is fasting is called a sinner, since the primary service is to complete one's body's physical limbs and the soul's spiritual limbs so that they should correspond in sanctity together solely devoted to serving Hashem. As this is known from the ways of the Ba'al Shem Tov.
And when Rav Mendel of Pristik entered, he was not warmly greeted and he was therefore downcast. When the Degel saw his despondence he drew him close and said "My brother, till now
where you a student of a different Tzadik a great Rav who served Hashem properly?" He answered, "I have been faithfully attending to and serving my master and teacher the Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk may his memory be a blessing."
When the Sadilkover Rav heard the name of the holy Rebbe Elimelech he grew very excited and his soul was aflame. The Degel said to Rav Mendel, "What did amazing thing can you tell me that you saw there?"
The Degel thought to himself, "now I will truly discern who Rav Mendel is, since every person's inner being can be recognized by what they praise and hold dear. Now he would see and hear what Rav Mendel would tell, would it be miracles and wonders, some salvation that his Rebbe did or similar things? Or would it be true awe of heaven and dveykus, cleaving in rapture to Hashem?"
The Tzadik from Pristik (Rav Mendel) said, "On a daily basis I saw that when my master meditated on the fear and awe of Hashem, all his bones would tremble and shake, a great fear and trepidation would seize him, and all present could clearly see his entire form violently trembling from the fear and awe of Hashem's majesty and greatness!
All his veins and sinews became thick like pipes and his face changed [colors?]. Beneath his ear there is one sinew, which I received from my master's tradition that this sinew only fears the day of death, and this vein too, I saw it shake with the fear and awe of Hashem!"
The Rav of Sadilkov said, "your grasp is so great! and the spiritual level of the Chassidim of Poland is so, I did not realize this was true." Afterwards he drew Rav Mendel even closer.
(Kehal Chassidim p49)
This story's end matches those we have traditionally from other great Rabbis. However it fills in a few missing pieces that make this story sound more complete and believable. First of all for the first time we have a reason given for why Rav Mendel a known student of the Rebbe Reb Melech was traveling to the Degel at all, his Rebbe had passed away and beforehand told him to go there.
Also we are told here for the first time why the Degel would have asked Rav Mendel about the Rebbe Reb Melech and why Rav Mendel answered him thus. In other words, we are told why the Degel would have given a "polish rebbe'le" a cold reception, it was not due to some petty argument, it was due to a great machlokes in the true derech of the Baal Shem Tov in serving Hashem.
As Rav Mendel realized what the Degel asked him, he answered with an example of yiras shomayim, genuine fear and awe of heaven something the Degel valued as authentic avodah as opposed to the miracle working that he despised of the "polish rebbes."
Without all these details it remains a mystery as to why Rav Mendel visited the Degel and why of all things that he witnessed by the great Rebbe Reb Melech he chose this example to relate to the Degel, and why the Degel was pleased with it.
R' Tal Moshe Zwecker
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Chassidic Classics in the English Language
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